For the second time in about six months, Alaska’s attorney general has resigned amid questions by the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica into their behavior.
One case involved harassment of a state employee. The other involves possible criminal allegations of sexual abuse.
Kevin Clarkson stepped down in August when the ADN reported he’d sent hundreds of unwanted text messages to a younger state employee, many inviting her to come to his home. Clarkson’s replacement, Ed Sniffen, resigned Friday, just 11 days after the governor formally appointed him to the position, as the ADN investigated an allegation Sniffen had had a sexual relationship in the mid-90s with a 17-year-old high schooler he coached.
Kyle Hopkins with the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica spoke with Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove.
LISTEN HERE:Read the full transcript below, with minor edits for clarity: Casey Grove: Kyle, this has unfortunately become a semi-regular segment. Kyle Hopkins: Well, hopefully we won’t be back again. But yeah, I mean, it’s definitely the second time in recent months. CG: So how did these revelations about Ed Sniffen come to light? KH: We heard from this former West Anchorage High School student, Nikki Dougherty White, who’s now in her 40s and living out of state and who had, at times considered coming forward with her story when she was much younger. You know, she just didn’t want to derail her life in any way. And, it would have been a big step to take at the time. But she said that she came forward now and reached out to us, because Sniffen had been appointed attorney general, and she felt like it was time to kind of to come forward. And really, she was preparing to testify at confirmation hearings, if necessary. Just a warning to listeners that we’re going to talk about this case. Now, what actually happened in 1990, you have what’s called a mock trial competition team, which is like a group of high schoolers, who play the roles of attorneys and witnesses, and they compete against other high schools. And so Sniffen, who was a young attorney at the time, he was like the attorney coach for the team in 1990, in 1991, and he advises them on how the law works in a real courtroom. West High wins this state competition, and then they go to nationals. And that year nationals happened to be in New Orleans. I think it was eight students from West High, a teacher, and then Ed Sniffen, and another person, they all fly to New Orleans, and they’re there for this national competition. And folks are not really carding young people, and they’re selling alcoholic stuff. So some of the kids kind of take advantage of being in New Orleans, right? Some of them are drinking hurricanes, or beers or whatever. And she says that she’s out with Sniffen – he was 27 at the time. He says that he bought her some drinks. And then they go back to the hotel. She goes to Sniffen’s hotel room, and she said they had sex that night. And then again, the second night, before returning back to Anchorage, and that that began kind of a sexual relationship that continued with him, really, for two or three years that she dated him kind of off and on, and at one point lived with him in Anchorage for a while until about 1993. CG: As you were investigating these allegations, and asking questions of the governor’s office and Sniffen, how did the state respond? KH: She provided a lot of corroborating information. She had receipts, it was clear from letters that she had received that were addressed to Sniffen’s home that they live together. They both at times had listed the same address as their home address. And there’s letters from her friends at the time who were asking about that relationship. I spoke to her friends — her friends knew that she was dating this guy who was older. And so it’s documented that they had a relationship in 1991. The part that’s potentially criminal is, you know, the sexual activity that happens while he’s still her coach. I talked to her teammate who said that Nikki told her about having sex with Sniffen while they were still on that trip. So I was kind of preparing to send questions to the state and Sniffen around the time that they announced that he had resigned. Sniffing said nothing, which is not surprising to us. And then the governor’s office has essentially said that they learned of the allegations recently and have directed the Department of Law to begin an investigation. CG: This would have been a crime at the time, right? I mean, while the age of consent might be 16, the law is also written to protect 16 and 17-year-olds, from teachers and coaches. And so this would have been a crime, right? So do you know what’s going to happen next? Do you know? KH: I mean, part of the reporting early on was just to establish ‘Okay, so what was the law at the time?’ And you also, I mean, this took place in New Orleans. So what was the law in New Orleans? They continue to have sex before and she after graduated. As soon as she got back to Anchorage, would the statute apply then? The law had just been changed the year before, because there was a Bartlett teacher who had had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old, and he was not convicted. And so the legislature kind of closed, what seemed to be a loophole in the law, making it crystal clear that someone who’s held in what they call a position of trust or trust relationship with a young person or was in a position of authority. They defined it as like a youth pastor or a counselor or a coach. For those people the younger person that age of consent was raised to 18, so that law had gone into effect. And I imagine that’s what the investigation will look at. CG: All right. That was Kyle Hopkins with the Anchorage Daily News and Pro Publica. You can read the full firstname.lastname@example.org. Kyle, thanks for being here.